MMA Award 2020: Coach of the Year

MMA Coach Background With Syndicate MMA Background

We have done several mixed martial arts awards but for betting purposes, the award for Coach of the Year may be the most important to note and remember because that’s a stable of fighters, not just one or two to worry about in 2021.

It’s also a proven system for some of these men, and the fact remains for all of the nominees for Coach of the Year I wanted to talk about today that they are all incredibly intelligent. Most of these guys also have something else in common, mediocre mixed martial arts careers.

They’re obviously going to beat up 99% of the world pound for pound, so technically, they are still pretty dangerous, but the old adage is old for a reason.

Those that cannot do, teach.

I’m one of those guys that had fun fighting and fought hard, but I would just feel unmotivated in there sometimes to hurt my opponent, and when he is sitting over there with no motivation needed, I’m putting myself behind the eight ball before we even get into attempting to match skill, power, and endurance.

That was my thing. Shortly after my short fight career, the MMA boom had hit my small town gym, and we were over 200 members learning Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu every day. This, of course, brought along several young lions who wanted to test themselves in the ring or cage.

My head coach was too busy with the overall growth of the school to have the opportunity to train all of these green fighters full time. I was already teaching the guys how to kickbox, so I thought, hey, I’m a white belt in Jiu Jitsu-let’s do this! This may not be the best example, but sometimes you have to jump in, and I am very glad I did. None of those guys are still fighting, and only a couple of them turned pro, but we all learned a lot. That can happen, you know…when you make a lot of mistakes.

The coaches I want to talk to you about today are no strangers to mistakes. They are probably much more familiar with them than the fighter because the fighter has to protect his ego and move on quickly, so he or she doesn’t get hung up on negativity.

It is the coach’s job to note the mistake and figure out why it happened, and also make a plan so that it won’t again in the future. This is where trust comes into play.

There must be a great deal of trust between a fighter and his coach. Some athletes even look at this like it’s a video game, and they are the character that is being controlled by their head coach/head cornerman.

That is different than most fighters who see themselves as the controller.

It’s very interesting, and I don’t want to pretend that I completely understand why either mindset is best for a fighter’s success.

This is the first time I have written an awards blog for any coaches, and since this is, of course, a website geared towards helping you beat the sportsbooks, we will highlight any upcoming betting opportunities.

That is the key word, there-opportunities. A wise man once said that life is about opportunities. I realize you can fill that blank after “Life is about” with a lot of phrases that make great sense, but this is one not to forget.

Please Note:
There have been times when I didn’t do tape on a fight for whatever reason. Maybe I did tape on the remainder of the card, or it was a late replacement, and I just wrote it off as having too many variables and therefore not bettable. Sure, this is sometimes the case, but opportunities pass, and they are gone. People say that others come along, and sure, they do, thank goodness, but a missed opportunity is money left on the table. I don’t want to let any opportunities pass me by in 2021. I don’t want to climb all the way up on the soapbox and go off about this philosophy in life, but you can figure it out.

Betting opportunities pass even the sharpest bettors by every month. They are out there, and no, we don’t have time to research every opportunity to take advantage of a betting line you think is off in every sport.

But, if we follow coaches/teams of fighters who have a system that is working at that time, then we can target clusters of betting odds and not just one at a time.

Eric Nicksick

Our first nominee is one of the unsung heroes of the UFC. This guy was running such a massive stable of fighters out of Xtreme Couture’s this year, and when COVID-19 hit, we had the lockdown.

After that is when Eric’s life got really, really busy, he was already one of the best coaches in the game, working at one of the best gyms in the world at Randy’s.

Eric Nicksick

Post-lockdown, the UFC had a couple of shows in Jacksonville, then they were back home in Las Vegas and putting on shows from the now famous small Octagon in the Apex facility. As the UFC began their ridiculous run to get all of their contracted fights aired before the end of the year after having to take 2 months off, the inevitable happened.

Fighters were having to pull out because of travel reasons, covid reasons, etc. There were many short notice, fights, and bad and missed weight cuts. It was ugly but beautiful at the same time.

You probably know how much love I have for the UFC and Dana White for what they were able to do this year to keep the show going. By coming back before the other major American sports, bettors were forced to give MMA a try, and now we are more popular than ever.

It’s not going to slow down, guys.

Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world, and we are here to grow this thing bigger than soccer. It is already worldwide and will be #2 before you know it.

I never knew I was such a male cheerleader. Sorry, guys. I guess I’m just pumped that it is fight week again after nearly a month away. This break in the fights shot me into a depression. I am not kidding at all.

I am so happy we are back this week, and once the first bell rings, we will have hopefully 35+ fights in a week’s time frame.

Back to the head coach and manager of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, Eric Nicksick. Here is a quick clip to get us started from The Fight Game series on Youtube.

You heard him list the fighters he is coaching. Francis Ngannou has his pick of any coach or trainer in MMA, I’m sure, as long as said coach has a well-paid pad man or doesn’t mind shoulder surgery at 40+ years old.

I trained at Syndicate but made my way over to Couture’s from time to time. The funny thing about Vegas MMA is there are no major rivalries. Maybe you have some coaches that don’t like each other, but the fighters stick together.

They would always say, “We are the ones getting in there,” and they were right.

I suppose Eric can tell his story as well as anyone, and a lot of other outlets have crowned him coach of the year already. I don’t know about that just yet.

Please Note:
The volume of fighters he has had to manage at the gym after the lockdown is just crazy. Couture’s filled up because all these up and coming guys thought hey, my best shot at getting the call is to be in Vegas working out and in shape already. There were fighters who made it onto the roster just like that and Eric was there all the way.

He was also coaching fighters like the Hawaiian duo of Dan Ige and a braddah fighting this weekend, Punahele Soriano. I’m going with Dusko in that one, though. Don’t screw up my bet, possible coach of the year!

Even if Eric isn’t the intellectual mastermind like Greg Jackson or Trevor Wittman because he doesn’t appear to be, I still think he can be just as effective as a leader of men.

Eugene Bareman

I will admit to you that 3 years ago, I had absolutely no idea who Eugene Bareman was, and I was an even bigger “fan” of mixed martial arts then. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job more than most, but I do have to shut the fanboy in my head up when I’m breaking down these fights and making a prediction on a winner.

Eugene is the head coach under at City Kickboxing in Auckland, New Zealand. This is the home to not one but two UFC world champions. Israel Adesanya won the middleweight world title just about 15 months ago over Robert Whittaker in front of a record crowd of over 57,000 people in Melbourne, Australia.

Eugene Bareman

It seems like it was much longer ago when Izzy won the belt, but anything prior to March of 2020 feels like it happened in a previous life.

In Eugene Bareman’s previous life as a mixed martial arts fighter, he finished up his pro career with a record of 4-3, losing 3 of his last 4 fights and retiring back in 2013. I told you guys. Most of the best coaches are around a .500 record.

Whenever superstar steve opens up his academy, be aware it might not be the best place because if it was easy for him, then he is never going to be able to teach anyone how to do it if they are struggling because he didn’t struggle there.

I’m sure there are exceptions but this is generally the case.

Eugene is an Auckland local who had more success in kickboxing fights and Jiu Jitsu tournaments than he did in mixed martial arts competitions.

This is likely because those were his styles, and he likes to exchange and finish. He doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would employ his students to simply go out there and try to control their opponents for a win.

So, it makes sense he succeeded in the finishing arts of Muay Thai, kickboxing, and BJJ.

Let’s look at the kind of year he has had and when you see these numbers, remember that they have been very limited because the Auckland guys are mainly fighting only on Fight Island, and most of the shows have been in Vegas.

His two world champions, Alex Volkanovski and Izzy Adesanya, have a combined pro MMA record of 42-1. Wow.

Eugene Bareman With Izzy

If you just want to talk win streaks, then the two men have won a combined 39 consecutive fights. It appears Eugene knows what he is doing down there in New Zealand. He also has no problem when his guys head north to Phuket to sweat.

Tiger Muay Thai has become an extension of City Kickboxing, and I can’t think of a better place for his guys to go. The states are just too far. It takes so much time just to get over the flight.

The two champs aren’t the only high level UFC fighters under the wing of Eugene Bareman. Dan The Hangman Hooker, one of the gamest of the game, is pushing for a spot inside the top five in the UFC’s most competitive division, Lightweight (155 pounds).

Please Note:
He is actually fighting very soon and against Michael Chandler a longtime Bellator veteran who is arguably one of the most explosive athletes in the history of mixed martial arts. I have heard some gym stories about this guy and some of the things he can do and it’s legendary.

Chandler will need it, though, against The Hangman, who opened as a (-160) favorite, and the market has corrected itself slightly to (-140) for the New Zealand native. Hooker will be 4 inches taller than the stout wrestler with a 4-inch reach advantage, as well as being 4 years younger than Chandler, who turns 35 in a couple of months.

PLACE YOUR BETS NOW!

I get it. The line makes sense to me. There are a lot of unknowns, and I am looking forward to breaking this one down further, I wish I could give you guys a lean today, but we have a little bit. It is the co-main event of UFC 257 McGregor vs Poirier.

Do the two winners fight? The two losers? What about Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira? And Khabib is still technically the champion. The UFC Lightweight Division is fire, and UFC 257 is going to be lit.

How lame was that? I promise it wasn’t premeditated. I don’t normally say lit, but it fit. Ugh, didn’t mean to do that either.

Eugene and Eric Nicksick are tied for the lead so far with our nominees. 2-0 for Izzy and Volkan. Eugene solved the Max Holloway puzzle not once but twice. Well, the second fight could have gone either way, so the robbery talk is just silly.

Tyson Chartier

Who is Tyson Chartier?


Pardon the language, but I’m sure you have all heard this sound bite before.

He is the head coach and cornerman up in Boston, Mass. Have you heard of the New England Cartel? No, okay, I had not either, but I am quite familiar with its two strongest team members.

Rob Font is just coming off of the biggest win of his pro MMA career when he knocked out the once highly feared KO artist Marlon Moraes with some crispy hands. He is one half of the dastardly duo out of New England.

We also have Calvin Kattar, who is fighting in the fight of his life this weekend in the first 5 rounder of 2021 against the previously mentioned Max Blessed Holloway. The line has moved slightly, but we actually already put out a pick for this fight.

Calvin’s betting odds haven’t moved too awfully far. We got him at (+155). It wasn’t the potential (+170) that a few select guys locked up, but it is still a great price and a great matchup.

Calvin’s head coach, Tyson Chartier, has the same professional record as Eugene Bareman, 4-3.

What do you know?

He never even beat a fighter with a winning record. It doesn’t mean these fighters turned coaches don’t have skills or knowledge. They certainly do.

It’s just that, for whatever reason, they weren’t able to apply it in competition. Some people shine brighter as the lights go up and some are best suited as leaders and motivators. There is no better feeling in the world for me than teaching someone who really wants to learn.

Tyson Chartier is just 40 years old and had his last professional fight about 8 years ago, so he hasn’t been in the coaching game for very long, or at least not completely dedicated to it like he is now.

Tyson Chartier

Hey, they even have a cool name now-The New England Cartel. Picking up the slack for Belichick and the boys. Somebody’s gotta do it.

People look and see just Kattar and Font, and they think, eh, those are just the talents, but if you look at how each fighter’s career progressed, neither guy was a world-beater from the start with some psychotic athletic ability or anything.

I will be on the lookout for the next stars to come out of the New England Cartel camp led by Tyson Chartier and betting Calvin Kattar to get it done over Max Holloway this weekend.

Read the pick article I linked above and get that bet in now!

PLACE YOUR BETS NOW!

Trevor Wittman

Now, for my favorite coach in all of mixed martial arts, Trevor Wittman. The former boxer and boxing trainer, Trevor now has a job with the UFC to go along with his duties coaching world champions and top contenders.

I love listening to this guy speak. I really, really do.

I feel like I learn more when he is talking than with anyone else I have ever heard talk about fighting, especially striking. I don’t think he is wowing anybody with his Jiu Jitsu knowledge, but the guy is so humble, he could be a world class black belt, and nobody would even know.

The UFC knows what’s up. They gave him a job as the guy who chimes in at the beginning of a round sometimes and gives his honest critique of the corner work. He is honest too. The guy can’t really hide the tone in his voice very well, and that is actually a good quality if someone seems like they couldn’t tell a lie and get away with it.

He also has his own brand but, more importantly, his own style, and more importantly than that, he has his own patent for the gloves he has designed. He makes custom MMA and boxing gloves by hand all himself, but the MMA ones are the focus.

Trevor Wittman

If he can get the contract with the UFC, he and his grandbaby’s grandbabies are set for life.

Another thing I love about this guy is that he isn’t a money grabber. He had a big gym open, and it wasn’t like he was failing. It was just that he wanted to focus on his gloves and just a select few elite fighters.

Rose Namajunas beat Joanna Champion cleanly, not one but twice, becoming world champion and defending her belt. Justin Gaethje almost got there. Technically speaking, he won the interim title, but he, along with most fans, didn’t consider it winning a world title.

Trevor is a genius, and I love his personality as a human as much as I do his fighting advice, and that is saying a lot.

John Wood

John Wood has had one of the most interesting couple of years coaching at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas as any of his peers. They just went through a massive moving process into another building that he said feels more like a home.

He started dating and is now engaged with Joanne Calderwood, soon to be Calderwood Wood. She is a long-time UFC fighter from Scotland, if you didn’t know, and one of the sweetest sounding people in the world.

Joanne Calderwood And John Wood

I have never met her, but her voice is so cute, but man, does she unleash h-e-double hockey sticks on her opponents whenever she gets the chance. That had to be a bit of an adjustment, but it is what John has been able to do in the face of Xtreme Couture being just miles down the street and them blowing up.

Word gets out quick in the fighting world. It is a small community, and it’s like a domino effect when one big-name fighter heads to a particular gym, and many will follow.

I didn’t just want to make excuses for John today because Xtreme Couture has supplanted them. John has a new wave of talent coming into the UFC, including Israel’s Natan Levy and Jordan Leavitt.

Both are exceptional mixed martial artists who are intelligent as they are skillful, and that’s scary. I have put a lot of time in with those two guys, and I expect them to crack the top ten by mid -022.

Until then, I would likely hammer them hard with my bets as long as the value is still there.

Honorable Mention

Travis Lutter

I had to throw my old buddy Travis Lutter on here. I’ve never met the guy, but I tell you what, as an Anderson Silva fan, I was a little worried when Travis was able to take him down right away.

It wasn’t long, though, until a well-timed up kick into a triangle choke finished off with elbows to the head was about it for Travis Lutter. He missed weight in that fight, so even if somehow some way, he pulls off the miracle and defeats The Spider, it wouldn’t be for the belt.

Travis Lutter

Travis was never the same after that. Not only did he miss weight and potentially blow the biggest fight of his life before it even happened but he got the takedown and then got tapped by the “striker”.

GOAT status for The Spider and potentially a sign that Travis may be a more successful coach than he was a fighter.

He brought up Kevin Holland and that’s enough for me. 5-0 with some of the most impressive finishes of the entire year!

MMA Coach of the Year

Eric Nicksick

Under these circumstances in 2020 in Las Vegas, nobody in all of town had a harder job than Eric Nicksick. I truly believe that. I was hearing from friends who train there that the mats were overflowing with UFC talent.

Eric Nicksick Coach Of The Year

They said there were probably 50 guys in class and 35 were in the UFC. Those are some big numbers right there and tough to match.

That is a lot of egos under one roof sharing one slice of mat space. Eric deserves this one!

In Conclusion

Wow, I feel like it was the year of the coach. This was longer than Fight of the Year and Fighter of the Year. Maybe, because I am a fight coach and occasional cornerman, I get more excited talking about these elite coaches.

The game plans these guys come up with are many times secrets and you just hear an outline of what they had planned. You definitely don’t hear it before the fight for these guys.

Please Note:
I feel like all the coaches I listed today did their job well in 2020 and some others are amazing. They just may not have had that magic word “opportunities” come along at the same rate or wavelength as someone like Eric Nicksick who is based out of Vegas and just a couple of miles from where the company was putting on events. Eugene Bareman and his fighters from New Zealand seem to have such a strong mix of technical ability with grit. Many times those two are opposites. Fighters will be very technical but not have the best heart.

Any French fighters that are known for their technique? Well, yes, most all of them. Okay, how many are known for their heart? I’ll wait.

Okay, now how about Mexican fighters? How many are known for their heart? All of them. It’s not easy being a coach, you see. If every fight was between a Mexican and a French guy, then you have them pegged 80% of the time, but that isn’t reality.

MMA is a worldwide sport that I think will be bigger than soccer or football for the laymen. The successful coaches of 2020 will no doubt have disciples, and as the sport grows, hopefully, their teachings aren’t lost in translation.
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Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.